By Roger Tagholm
It sounds like a joke, doesn’t it — a sort of book trade equivalent of that Seth Rogen film The Interview in which a cheesy U.S. talk show presenter is offered an interview with the North Korean leader. But why not? There may even be those among who — paradoxically — would argue for it, on the basis that Saudi Arabia and China are already in.
There are, after all, a small number of business visits made to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and there was a recent, touching reunion between families who had been split between North and South following the Korean War. Yes, the country is isolated – or has isolated itself – but it is perhaps not 100% isolated, and will it always be so in any case? Certainly, the message at the border is all about reunification.
Posed with this question at the Arab Publishers Conference in Sharjah this week, International Publishers Association President Richard Charkin grinned at first, and gave a simple answer. “If a country’s publishers association wants to apply, there’s a simple process. There’s a form they have to fill in, and they have to sign up to two key areas: copyright and the freedom to publish …”
It may come as a surprise to many, but North Korea acceded to the Berne Convention (for the Protection of Literary and Artistic works) on 28 April 2003 — although whether this actually has any meaning on the ground is a moot point.
But as the recent letter from the Saudi Publishers Association points out, a publishing body does not necessarily have to follow its country’s government. That may be too much to ask in North Korea, but who’s to say what will happen in the future? Undoubtedly, the mood in Sharjah this week is all about openness and coming together; about issues being more nuanced, not black and white. Was that Iraqi publishers seen in a huddle with Charkin? Things move fast in the world now, the Net and YouTube is driving down barriers, the young Arab women coming onto the stands know as much about Zoella and PewDiePie as suburban teenagers in western cities. Would North Korea joining the IPA be a step in a positive direction?